May 11, 2021
Tan Books has released a newly revised redux of the manual of prayers published by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (imprimatur 1888) titled The Little Office of Baltimore. The Baltimore council, which produced a catechism that formed generations of the faithful, also produced an English version of the Little Office, a devotion derived from the Roman Breviary. By giving life to The Little Office of Baltimore, the publisher aims to do similarly with its compilation of psalms, scriptures, lessons, and collects to be prayed at each of the eight hours of the Church’s prayer: matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline.
The look and feel of book alone conveys something of the magnificence of its contents with the beautiful black leather cover, embossed gold title, and edged gold leaf pages. For a bibliophile and a devotee of the Office like myself, handling a book of such beauty and sturdiness requires a reverence that translates easily into prayer.
What is more, the stately diction of the Little Office of Baltimore also heightens the act of prayer. One will find in this translation an appropriately elevated, richly textured point of entry to the language of the psalms. For instance, the Benedicite is translated thus: “All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord; praise and exalt Him above all forever. O ye Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord: bless the Lord, O ye Heavens.”
The inclusion of “ye” is emblematic of the traditionalism of the translation; as a stylistic decision it contributes to the otherworldliness of the act of prayer. This is not ordinary language.
I found linguistic quirks a great inspiration to chant the office rather than recite, as these psalms often contain words which stumble out of the mouth for lack of practice using them.
Chanting also enables one to enter into the deeper habitus of praying rather than focusing solely on an intellectual nourishment based on comprehension of the words. This office, and indeed all offices, are meant to wash over the heart as well as the mind, to engage the senses as well as the soul through the act of singing. By encouraging that the translations be sung, The Little Office of Baltimore may do just that.
Finally, the layout of the Little Office of Baltimore is entirely engaging. It assumes a familiarity with how to pray the office that surpasses a beginner’s knowledge but does not require monastic expertise. Thus, there is no reading over tons of instructions in red after you have learned the layout of the book and the basics of the prayers.
The Little Office of Baltimore follows the traditional Roman Office, which enables a valuable compactness. How so? By following the Roman Office, the Little Office of Baltimore gives a shortened version of the one-week rotation through the psalter and canticles, though it does drop some from the rotation.